oakland’s city council votes to ban potentially destructive items at demonstrations

Early this morning, Oakland’s City Council voted to forbid protesters from carrying numerous items that could potentially be used as weapons. The proposal had been abandoned last year, but was reintroduced after a protester, in an apparently instinctive reaction, hit a waiter with a hammer in the frames of his glasses on July 15 during a demonstration against the jury’s verdict in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial. Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb abstained from the vote due to concerns that demonstrators could be arrested for items such as protest signs with posts that don’t meet specifications. According to today’s San Francisco Chronicle article,

Oakland first tried to ban weapons from demonstrations in 2012, when Occupy Oakland protesters repeatedly bashed in downtown windows while battling with police. But the committee discussing that resolution took no action after irate protesters disrupted a meeting, saying the effort to ban the weapons was a violation of their free speech.

Although political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual anti-protest laws, every such law is another tool officers can use in their attempts to prevent demonstrations from disrupting business as usual. Montréal’s bylaw P–6, for example, bans blunt objects at demonstrations, specifically baseball bats and hockey sticks, which protesters used during the 2001 Québec City anti-FTAA demonstrations to knock tear gas canisters back at police. As police at demonstrations often use excessive force and sometimes kill protesters or bystanders, they can easily disperse crowds in which protesters can’t defend themselves against police weapons (e.g., tear gas).